ROYAL OAK, Mich. (WXYZ) — A historic community staple in Royal Oak is on the chopping block.
The Main Art Theatre has been a beacon of independent cinema for 80 years, but plans to tear it down have sparked a rally from community members — desperate to find a way to keep it standing.
In June 2021, the building’s former out-of-state tenants closed the theater permanently, sparking this marquee display by theatre staff.
“I feel this is one of the things that has remained the same throughout all the changes in this city,” says longtime Royal Oak Resident Nancy Greenia.
Greenia isn’t opposed to change but doesn’t want to see history lost. She’s joining a growing list of people and businesses in Royal Oak, trying to save the main art theatre.
“I think it would lose a great opportunity to do something different. Just get outside of the box,” says the Royal Oak resident.
Like offering film production or screenwriting classes, one of many ideas of Friends of the Main Art Theatre is a non-profit that formed this summer after news spread that the theatre might be razed.
They’re in conversations with the owners, hoping to reach an agreement, but nothing is certain.
Rumors have included there will be a new development of a smaller micro-cinema.
“We’re talking 50 to 100 seats in a one-screen space with the possibility of a side room with about 50 seats,” says Royal Oak Resident Pamela Murray.
But nothing is certain so far for the historic theatre.
Ideally, the group wants to see the theatre, which opened back in 1941, saved altogether.
“In my mind, demolition and development does not always equate to progress," says Jane Strunck fromFriends of the Main Art.
The building’s owners submitted development plans to the city commission last week, seeking to turn the property into a five-story mixed-use space to include retail, housing, and office space.
For people like Main Art’s President Jason Krysiak, it’s a bit of a sting to have the marquee remaining without the 3-screen theatre.
This fight for him is a personal one too. He came here with his family for years to see indie films, cult classics, or foreign works not usually available at traditional theatres.
The Main Art's president says the theatre's goal is to enter a lease agreement with the property owners and run the property as a community-driven theatre.
They’ve seen it work in other Michigan cities and are hopeful the site’s developers keep an open mind so that this theatre may open its doors again.
"We have people thanking us for contacting them," says Strunck. "Because this theater not only supports our love of independent film, but it supports the community."
Friend of the Main Arts is hosting a rally on April 9 at 2 p.m.outside of The Main Arts Theatre.
Residents are also encouraged to attend the Royal Oak City Commission meeting on April 12. The meeting will take place in person at 7 p.m, and the city will discuss the plans for the Royal Oak Main Theatre.